HEAD coach Kieran Crowley says Italy have silenced the noise over their Guinness Six Nations future after ending a 36-game losing streak in the tournament against Wales.
With Italy having failed to record a Six Nations victory since beating Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015, their place had been long in question, with many observers since calling for promotion and relegation to the tournament and insisting on the fact that Georgia would be more competitive than the Azzurri.
But those voices might be quieter from now on as Italy produced a terrific performance – and a last-gasp winning try from winger Edoardo Padovani – to beat Wales 22-21 for a first-ever win. in Cardiff.
On the debate over Italy’s Six Nations status, head coach Crowley said: “We don’t listen to that noise. It’s up to the highest paid people to decide.
“We just focus on us playing. A lot (of the criticism) could probably be justified with 36 games in a row, but you can’t say that now.
“That’s what we like. We didn’t worry about anything else.”
Italy led 12-7 at the break as boots from Paolo Garbisi and Padovani rewarded a front-footed performance. But Wales scored three tries, Josh Adams’ effort 12 minutes from time giving them a 25-21 lead, and the defending Six Nations champions looked set to go home.
But then Toulouse-bound full-back Ange Capuozzo left the Welsh defenders in his wake with a flurry from the touchline, and he fed Padovani for a score which Garbisi converted to spark wild Italian celebrations.
Crowley said: “I’m so proud of the boys. We were a bit under duress during the week. We had a bit of an illness, a flu virus, and we were struggling towards the end. They were out on their feet for the last 30 minutes, but we just dug.
“The positive thing about it is that they kept playing and believing in it. The defense was exceptional. We have to improve in our discipline and the players really bought into that and improved in that area.
“If we want to become a top team, we have to do this kind of thing. A result like this gives us the confidence that we are doing work. The players have confidence and believe in what we are doing.
“We have to build on that now because a win doesn’t make a team.”
Wayne Pivac has slammed Wales’ “unacceptable performance” as his side end the 2022 tournament in fifth place, with their only victory against Scotland.
“It’s very disappointing,” said a clearly shocked Pivac. “A lot has happened since last year, it’s well documented. We came with the objective of giving ourselves the opportunity to finish third, which would have been a superb effort from the boys. .
“After the first round (when Wales were beaten 29-7 by Ireland in Dublin) we were building every week. But it was an unacceptable performance, which we must not let happen again.
“We had three good performances in this competition and two that we weren’t proud of. So it wasn’t the full competition. We will get some criticism for that – and rightly so.”
Pivac had made seven changes to the squad that had pushed France all the way in Cardiff eight days earlier.
This had led to allegations of arrogance and underestimation of Italy in some quarters and, on a day when returning Alun Wyn Jones won his 150th cap and Dan Biggar became the seventh Welshman to win his 100th, the Pivac’s men waded into the Principality stadium.
Pivac sidestepped Biggar’s post-match assertion in a TV interview that it was “probably the last chance for a lot of players”, preferring instead to focus on the pending summer test in South Africa and the 2023 World Cup in France in 18 months. .
“Nothing changes in terms of where we are and what we are working towards,” Pivac said.
“Obviously it wasn’t part of the plan to lose this game, but we will review this game as a group of coaches and see why we didn’t have the energy and urgency that the Italians came with. .
“If we go to the World Cup and get to the quarter-finals and the semi-finals, everyone will be very happy.
“We’re not going to lose sight of the big goal and the bigger picture. It’s a bitter pill for everyone to swallow, but we have to learn from it.
“I hope we take a step forward this summer against the world champions in their backyard, which will be a big question, with an idea of how far we are from them at just over 12 months. of the World Cup.”
The only time Italy avoided defeat in Cardiff was an 18-18 draw in 2006.
Wales’ previous two defeats against Italy had come in Rome, in 2003 and 2007, and Pivac felt the officials played a part in an ignominious third at home.
Substitute prop Wyn Jones thought he scored a try in the second half, but officials weren’t convinced he put the ball under the posts.
Pivac said: “It’s in the wording, isn’t it? On the pitch, no try. I thought he looked like he crossed the line.
“He’s a big man and the ball is under him, so if he didn’t touch a blade of grass I would be very surprised.
“When you ask an inexperienced TMO (television match official) to take a look at it, but it’s on the pitch without trying, his decision was not a try. But we have to be better at cross the line.”